To post or not to post? That is the question in Idaho.

By Michael Gibson 

Sportsmen and women in Idaho are concerned about a proposed law working its way through the Statehouse in Boise that could have drastic impacts on hunting and fishing access in the Gem State.

While Trout Unlimited agrees there could be some improvements in current trespassing laws in Idaho, there are some issues with House Bill 536, which would remove the requirements for landowners to post their property as private.

Removing these requirements would likely invite accidental trespassing, not prevent trespassing as the bill’s authors claim. In fact, should it become law, would muddy the state’s trespassing statutes and potentially confuse legal access to public lands. There are literally thousands of fences stretched across public land to denote grazing allotments. By not requiring landowners to post their land, confusion of what’s private and what’s public will get worse.

In fact, it’s almost as if the bill’s authors are trying to play “gotcha!” with sportsmen and women. It simply makes no sense.

TU also has concerns about the bill’s language that would levy a felony charge for repeat offenders who might think they’re on public land, but because no signs exist to warn them otherwise, they could be unknowingly guilty.

Taking away fishing and hunting privileges in such cases seems more appropriate than a felony charge, and would likely act as a large deterrent to hunters and anglers. But the larger issue still looms: unposted land adds confusion to the access issue.

But perhaps TU’s greatest concern is the fact there was no efforts made to include sportsmen when language for the bill was crafted. The bill was released to the general public after a print hearing on Feb. 8. Rep. Judy Boyle testified as the sponsor of the bill and stated she had been working on it for years. If that is the case, why weren’t sportsmen and women included in the discussions? Governing should be inclusive, and this bill is anything but.

During a House Agricultural Committee hearing on the bill, representatives of the Idaho Sheriff’s Association of Counties and the Idaho Prosecuting Attorneys Association also said their organizations knew nothing of HB 536 until it was printed. They expressed concern that the bill could be indefensible in court and, perhaps, even unconstitutional.

We encourage Idaho sportsmen and women—and hunters and anglers who visit Idaho to fish and every year and contribute to Idaho’s robust outdoor recreation economy— to reach out to Idaho’s legislators and make it clear that changes in the trespassing laws should be considered, but those changes must be done in the light of day and in collaboration with all the impacted parties.

Ask them to vote no on House Bill 356. You can find your state lawmakers here.

Michael Gibson is the Idaho Field Coordinator for Trout Unlimited’s Sportmen’s Conservation Project. He is currently spending a lot of time in the Idaho Statehouse in Boise. 

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The 2017 Top Ten Trout Salmon and Steelhead Stories

Once again it’s time for the annual Idaho Trout Unlimited post of the “Top Ten Trout, Salmon and Steelhead Stories.”  See this link for last year’s top ten list.  This is the 9th annual presentation of stories affecting trout, salmon and steelhead and their watersheds in Idaho.   You can find the previous top ten stories for 201520142013201220112010 and 2009.  What follows is a mix of the obvious stories that circulated in the news media along with the little known, obscure but significant events, projects and policy advances that help protect and perpetuate North America’s cold water resource.

1. Steelhead Symbol – The poor Snake River steelhead returns portend a precarious status and uncertain future for Idaho’s ocean-going salmon species, and a low confidence that government agencies are going to much of anything to make things better about those killer dams.

The summer and early fall of 2017 saw stories about the forecast for poor numbers of Snake River steelhead bound for natal waters in Idaho and eastern Oregon.  In response the Idaho Department of Fish and Game in August closed steelhead harvest  and neighboring states followed suit.  Catch and release fishing was still allowed.  By mid August only 400 steelhead had crossed Lower Granite Dam, compared to the ten year average of 6,000 for that calendar date.  Later into the fall numbers improved and IDFG proposed opening a harvest season.  This led to a debate among anglers whether the still moribund numbers should be protected with catch and release only fishing or allow some harvest. Opinion was even split.  Riggins-based outfitter Kerry Brennan, quoted in theLewiston Tribune, said everybody cares for the resource.  “We are all on the same side. We just have a little different way of going about it.” The Commission placed a size limit on the Clearwater River to help protect the rare B-run steelhead.

Left out of the immediate debate of the fishing rules was the specter of the eight dams between Idaho and the Pacific Ocean which exact a toll when smolts migrate seaward and adult fish swim home.  On that front 2017 saw the Federal dam agencies like the Army Corps of Engineers and Bonneville Power Administration take their sweet time contemplating the court-ordered Environmental Impact Statement and reporting that it will be sometime year 2020 when people see an EIS.  The judge seemed not too pleased with the overly broad and leisurely approach to the study but acknowledged he cannot tell the agencies how to do their EIS.  This is all connected to the legal violations of the Endangered Species Act   Meanwhile NOAA Fisheries released it’s long-awaited Snake River Salmon Recovery Plans.  First launched in 1992 the recovery plan took 25 years (yes, you read that right, twenty-five years) to bring to a final document.  And NOAA did it in a way to discount it’s relevance by first pointing out that a recovery plan is not bindingi.e., actions are voluntary and secondly by not including the removal of the lower Snake River dams as a necessary recovery action despite all the scientific evidence that it’s about the only thing that can be done to improve survival rates sufficient to recover the Snake River Chinook salmon species.  That the responsible federal agencies are not planning to do much to make things better is largely what was found in a series of articlespublished over five months by Idaho Statesman reporter Rocky Barker.  Barker also took time to recount how the newspaper’s editorial board took a position in favor of breaching the dams back in 1997, and how they hold to that position today.

2. Big water year – 2017 stands out as one of the top years for stream run-off thanks to the records in snowpack and precipitation.  While this condition created issues of local economic losses with snow damage and flooding, there was also an impact on fisheries.  Some of the more pronounced impacts were on the Big Wood River in Blaine County.  This will have long term implications for that river, and Trout Unlimited did its part to counsel for appropriate actions in response to the flooding.
On the Boise River ahabitat project completed in winter 2016 was subjected to flows in the range of 8,000 cfs for a couple of months or so (bank full discharge of the Boise River is considered 6,500 cfs).  The project weathered the storm after some late winter planting.
Meanwhile on the South Fork Boise River the high flows in the spring months rearranged the sediment and debris that washed into the river following the wildfires in the summer of 2013.  In the Snake River the high flows were beneficial for sturgeon spawning, something that doesn’t happen very often.  The high flows aided with migration of smolts to the Pacific Ocean, at least those not captured and placed in barges.
3. National award for Yankee Fork restoration projects – The Chief of the US Forest Service recognized the Yankee Fork Restoration Project for a Chief’s Honor Award at a ceremony in Washington, D.C. in December.  The Salmon-Challis National Forest and it’s fisheries biologist Bart Gamett received recognition for this award, along with  partners the Bonneville Power Administration, Bureau of Reclamation, Idaho Fish and Game, Idaho Governor’s Office of Species Conservation, J.R. Simplot Incorporation, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries, Shoshone-Bannock Tribes, Tiffany and Company Foundation, Trout Unlimited, and the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service.  A recent news release from the Salmon-Challis NF noted the Yankee Fork Restoration Project was a multi-year, multi-funded river restoration project and included team members Cassie Wood, Project Manager, Trout Unlimited; Paul Drury, Project Manager, Bureau of Reclamation; and Evelyn Galloway, Habitat Biologist, Shoshone Bannock Tribe.  Here is a recent video of some of the work in the Yankee Fork drainage.
4. Clark Fork Connections –  Several activities along the Clark Fork River show the work being done to reconnect the river’s bull trout populations that are fragmented by large dams.  The Cabinet Gorge Dam passage program of trap and haul of bull trout coming from Lake Pend Oreille into the Clark Fork River is well known.   More recently, focus is now on passage proposals on Albeni Falls Dam, the downstream outlet of Lake Pend Oreille.  Multiple interests are coming together on restoring the Clark Fork Delta.  Check out this great video from Idaho Fish and Game:
Yet counter to these restoration actions is the proposal for significant mining near the Clark Fork River in Montana.  In early 2017, the Fish and Wildlife Service determined that it must reanalyze its review of the Rock Creek Mine proposal because new information shows the mining will cause baseflow reductions in Rock Creek and East Fork Bull River, and also there is additional bull trout critical habitat designated in 2010.  This additional review is needed to comply with a Court order that found a Biological Opinion to be unlawful based on the long-tern dewatering of streams critical to bull trout that would affect important populations and core areas (Kootenai River and lower Clark Fork River).
5. Springfield hatchery debacle – It is hard to live down a headline, “Idaho Hatchery Built to Save Salmon is Killing Them.”   The Springfield fish hatchery near Aberdeen was built as a conservation hatchery for Snake River sockeye salmon.  In November a story broke of a poor survival rate of sockeye smolts raised at Springfield and then trucked to the Sawtooth Valley for release in the Salmon River to migrate to the sea.  Idaho Fish and Game made an admirable effort to explain the problem and what they were doing about it to make things better.  Turns out the hard water at the Springfield hatchery (high in calcium carbonate) where the sockeye are raised is much different than the soft water of the Salmon River and its headwater streams.  And moving the smolts from one condition of water chemistry abruptly to another creates too much stress for the young fish to handle.  Why the big difference in water chemistry?  Basically it comes down to geology.  The basalt rock of the Snake River plain where the hatchery draws its water is maybe one to three million years old and a different kind of rock while the headwaters of the Salmon River drain from mountains of granite that were formed some 40 million to 60 million years ago.

Tincup Creek work is progressing

6. Tincup Creek Restoration – It took a Jackson Hole, WY Chapter to find a project in Idaho that turns out to be the top rated project in the nation.  When the Jackson Hole Chapter applied for a Trout Unlimited Embrace A Stream grant the Tincup Creek project ended up rated first among nearly 60 projects across the nation.  Tincup Creek drains a large area on the Caribou-Targhee National Forest and flows east from Wayan, Idaho to a confluence with the Salt River in Freedom, Wyoming. The Salt River is tributary to the Palisades Reservoir and part of the large upper South Fork Snake River watershed.  This project will restore habitat for native cutthroat trout and address watershed problems that date from the mid 1950s when herbicides were broadcast along the stream to kill off all the willow that helped provide stable stream banks and shade on the stream.

7.  Lewiston Orchards Water Exchange – The first year in operation of the first well for the Lewiston Orchards Irrigation Project was in 2017 and less water was diverted from headwater streams in the Lapwai Creek area south of Lewiston.  The long time diversion of water from small streams affected Snake River steelhead, so the Bureau of Reclamation, New Perce Tribe, Lewiston Orchard Irrigation District and Bureau of Indian Affairs developed a plan to replace the surface water diversions with groundwater pumping.  The first year using one groundwater well is complete and additional wells will be drilled when funds are available.  “This project will restore flow reliability to stream in the Lapwai Watershed, including Sweetwater Creek,” says Kira Finkler, director of Trout Unlimited’s Idaho Water Project.  “Because of the unique characteristics of Sweetwater Springs, the biological value of these streams for steelhead is likely very high and the project will contribute to increasing the resilience of steelhead to climate change impacts.  The restoration of these biological values will resolve the project’s effects on the New Perce Tribe and its people, including impacts to natural and to cultural and religious water users.”

Big crowd rally for public lands.

8. Public Lands rally and legislative progress in 2017 – Idaho’s public lands are a treasure! These lands, and access to them, are why most of us choose to live, work and raise families in Idaho.  These lands and watersheds are essential to the wild trout and salmon populations in this state. However, many Federal and State Legislators seek to pull the rug out from under us by transferring ownership of federal public lands to the state or selling this cherished resource to the highest bidder. Trout Unlimited joined with other organizations to put on a rally at the Idaho Capitol which was attended by more than 3,000 people.  Meanwhile the legislative session resulted in some progress on a number of fronts, good for salmon and trout.  Idaho Fish and game brought forward its  first fee increase in over a decade. The 20% increase would add $1-$6 dollars on most licenses and with an innovative “Price Lock” proposal:  if you buy a license every year, you do not pay the increase.  It took some finagling along the way, including a new “conservation license” added to all hunting and fishing licenses that will pay for additional wildlife depredation claims.  But for anglers the fund are split in half with money going to access for hunting and fishing.

9. Wimpy Creek project on Lemhi River – Another project reconnecting a piece of the Upper Salmon basin in the Lemhi River.  Back in 1992 the Lemhi Model Watershed Project was designed by then Governor Cecil Andrus as the focus area for habitat projects as part of the Northwest Power Planning Council’s Fish and Wildlife Program.  Some 25 years later many, many projects continue to go forward under the aegis of multiple agencies and organizations.  Trout Unlimited’s Idaho Water Project is working with the Moulton Ranch on this project.

10. Cecil Andrus leaves a conservation legacy – August 2017 and the passing of former Idaho Governor and Secretary of the Interior Cecil Andrus brought forth a multitude of stories that remind everyone of the conservation legacy of Idaho’s only four-term Governor and first President-appointed cabinet secretary.  During his 14 years as Governor, Cecil Andrus established an unmatched record of trout, salmon and steelhead conservation.  He brought those values to the national stage as Secretary of the Interior under President Jimmy Carter, ensuring the protection of 103 million acres of Alaska, large areas of the Idaho back country, and numerous Wild and Scenic River designations, a half-dozen coming the night before Ronald Reagan took office.

In Idaho during his six years in the State Senate in the 1960s a state law was passed protecting the Middle Fork Salmon River from dredge mining.  He proposed a state surface mining law in 1970 and campaigned for Governor in opposition to an open pit mine at the base of Castle Peak.  His election that year began an era of conservation in Idaho that lasts to present day through a number of laws, policies and agencies that were put in place, many of which contribute to the protection of Idaho’s trout and salmon species.

One of his major efforts was focused on Idaho’s anadromous fish.  Andrus used to fish for steelhead in the North Fork of the Clearwater River in the 1950s when he was raising a young family in Orofino.   A blog post from the Ted Trueblood Chapter recounts that he took a leadership role in protection of Idaho’s salmon and steelhead runs:

In 1990 (during his second life as Governor 1987-95), the first Endangered Species Act petitions were filed by indian tribes and conservation groups on the Snake River sockeye salmon, as well as the Snake River spring, summer and fall Chinook salmon.  This was a big deal and very politically-charged at the time, because in the Pacific Northwest the Endangered Species Act and other federal laws had affected management of National Forests, severely restraining timber sales and in turn logging and saw milling jobs in rural forest communities.

To many idahoans the Endangered Species Act status for Snake River salmon could spell massive economic disruption.  High concern spread among water users that federal agencies based in the downstream states of Oregon and Washington could find a way to demand water from Idaho irrigators and instead use the water to push the juvenile salmon to the ocean during the spring migration.

Rather than shy away from what looked like a no-win issue, Andrus plunged in. The four states, federal agencies, interest groups and trade associations in the region held a number of meetings, called the Salmon Summit.  And it was Idaho Governor Cecil Andrus who brought forward a plan.  A plan that focused on the real problem created by the construction of the four lower Snake River Dams that slowed the flowing waters into a series of stagnant reservoirs and preventing free migration of salmon and steelhead to the sea.  And Andrus decided to make it a national issue.

Governor Andrus, who was a Trout Unlimited member, leaves a legacy that inspires many to continue the conservation mission for Idaho’s salmon, steelhead and trout.

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Trout Unlimited testimony on the Idaho Fish and Game Fee Legislation

Testimony for House Bill 230

Mr. Chairman, members of the committee, My name is Michael Gibson, Idaho Field Coordinator for Trout Unlimited, I am from Boise. I come before you today representing our Idaho members and convey our support for H230.

Trout Unlimited is made up of angler conservationists with a mission to conserve, protect and restore Idaho’s coldwater fisheries and their watersheds. We understand the importance of a fully funded fish and game agency and their ability to efficiently manage fish and wildlife populations now and for the future. Idaho has arguably the best fishing and hunting opportunities in the lower 48 states and is the envy of the nation. We deserve to have the best and brightest personnel to manage this world-class resource. Fulling funding the agency allows them to find and retain qualified biologists and staff in a competitive marketplace.

We applaud the agency for “thinking outside the box,” so to speak, with their innovative price lock proposal. Price Lock, which rewards loyal customers who annually by hunting and fishing licenses, by holding their cost for hunting, fishing and big game tags at current levels, also helps recruit infrequent and sporadic purchasers of licenses and retain them in the system.

H230 also proposes a new revenue stream to address the challenge of big game depredation on private land and more money for hunting and fishing access programs. Further, a larger portion of each fishing license will go towards fishing improvements and fishing access.

While we recognize that asking sportsmen and women to pay more in fees is never easy, the bill before you today strikes a balance with keeping up with increasing costs, effective management of Idaho’s wildlife resource, protecting private landowners, increasing access opportunities and rewarding loyal customers.

With that I ask for you move H230 to the floor with a do pass recommendation.

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Yellowstone Science Issue Features Native Fish Conservation

The latest issue of Yellowstone Science magazine focuses on native fish conservation in Yellowstone National Park.  There are several articles about native Yellowstone cutthroat trout including our restoration efforts in Yellowstone Lake (see pages 4-17 and 42-74 in particular). The article on pages 52-53 recognizes the hard work of the Yellowstone Lake Working Group, of which TU Idaho Council is an active member.
This issue, as well as past issues of Yellowstone Science can be viewed and downloaded here:
submitted by John Ellsworth, Idaho Council Yellowstone Cutthroats Coordinator
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As seen at today’s public lands rally

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Rally for Public Lands March 4

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Top Ten Trout 2016

Welcome to the end of 2016 and our 8th Annual Idaho Trout Unlimited’s ten trout tales, or stories affecting trout, salmon and steelhead and their watersheds in Idaho.   You can find the previous top ten stories for 201520142013201220112010 and 2009.
  1. Simon Says.  US District Court Judge Michael Simon ruled in May 2016 that the 2014 Biological Opinion on the Federal Columbia River dams violates the Endangered Species Act for failing to protect ESA-listed salmon and steelhead runs.  Later in the year the judge approved a timeline for the federal agencies to launch a new Environmental Impact Statement process that will take up to five years to complete.  Public open house events were held around the region in November and December.
  2. Bear River Narrows Dam is still dead.  In 2015 the staff for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission recommended in an EIS that the license be denied for the Bear Rivers Narrows dam.  In June 2016 the FERC issued an official order (.pdf) denying the application for a federal hydropower license.
  3. Henry’s Fork Challenges.  As stated by the Henry’s Fork Foundation, “this was a year of unprecedented strain on fish populations and fishing opportunities. The Henry’s Fork watershed was not immune. The double whammy of early runoff and drier-than-normal conditions has robbed fish of sustained flows of cold water that they need. As we learn how to work with these challenges across western states, forging and sharing best practices watershed to watershed, your commitment to one of the world’s greatest fly-fishing streams is needed more than ever.”
  4. Arrowrock Intact, for now.  In May, the US Army Corps of Engineers stunned the Idaho Water Resource Board by walking away from a proposal to rebuild and raise Arrowrock Dam another 70 feet, adding to the already 348 foot tall structure and flooding more miles of free flowing, trout friendly waters in the South Fork Boise River and Middle Fork Boise River.  The additional backwater would convert the bull trout habitat to more seasonal slack water.  While the Corps determined the project has less than a 1:1 cost benefit ratio don’t count out attempts in the future to come up with a way to increase the reservoir.
  5. Water Sustainability Policy.  In November the Idaho Water Resource Board adopted a water sustainability policy (.pdf), an amendment to the state’s Comprehensive Water Resources Plan.  Thanks to efforts of many gourds and individuals including the Trout Unlimited Idaho Water Project Office the policy was strengthened and more balanced about multiple uses of water.  A prime example is the May 2016 draft policy makes no reference to fish whereas the adopted policy is does, and is better for it.
  6. Hunters and anglers support public lands.  A joint hearing at the Idaho Legislature in February was staged to hear from a couple of lawmakers from the state of Utah who visited Boise to pitch the Idaho Legislature on the Utah efforts to wrest control of public lands managed by federal government

    Full house of opposition to state takeover of public lands.

    agencies with civil service professionals and turn the lands over to an uncertain future of state management until the next fiscal crisis occurs, where the lands would be vulnerable to sale and privatization.  The majority of people in the seats were there in opposition to this talk about transfer of public lands to the states.  Social media had churned through the weekend to get hunters, anglers, outdoors enthusiasts and conservation interests to show up for the hearing.  That there was no mingling among the crowd and legislators before the hearing indicated this was largely a Boise crowd who were there to show opposition to the land transfer ideas.
  7. Suction Dredge Mining.  The long-running, sometimes contentious topic of suction dredge mining of Idaho waters for “recreational” or commercial purposes continued it chronic presence in the state.  But some clearing of the issue appears to be happening, not unlike the shutting off of dredge discharge into a stream leads to a clearing of the waters.  First, the Idaho Legislature heard testimony on House Bill 510 in February and after three hours hearing from supporters and opponents of the bill (Trout Unlimited was well represented among the opponents), voted to hold the bill in committee where it died for the session.  Later in the year the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest issued a decision to allow for recreational dredge mining in the South Fork Clearwater River and a couple other streams under limited and strict conditions.  This decision at least provides an outlet for people at an appropriate time and place.  Finally late in the year the Environmental Protection Agency announced a settlement and fine of an individual for violation of the Clean Water Act for conducting dredge mining activities without the proper permits.  We hope this issue can continue to be dealt with the rational approach demonstrated in 2016.
  8. eDNA. Use of eDNA is transforming aquatic assessment to be able to reach greater geographic areas to detect presence or absence of species.  Some interesting information about it can be found on this Forest Service web page.
  9. Pole Creek restoration. … enjoy this video!
  10. Fish Handling.  Angler awareness about the effects of how fish are handled as part of a catch and release fishery  (or variations like slot limits etc.) is leading to a burgeoning movement to raise awareness about fish handling practices.  See for example the website.  Some progress was made on this topic with the early 2016 publication for the fishing rules.  See information about that at this story.
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Post election comments from Chris Wood

Chris’ comments at  may provide a path forward and calm any anxiety over our future conservation work.

Keep up the good work for future generations.


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Salmon, Steelhead, Taxes & Dams

Sunday, July 31st, 2016 @ 6 PM
Best Western Lodge, McCall, ID

Monday August 1st, 2016 @ 6:15 PM
The Community Campus, Hailey, ID

In these presentations, Jim Waddell will be delivering a compelling presentation on why the four Lower Snake River dams must be breached. New light will be cast on the 2002 Feasibility Report/Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) conducted by the Army Corps of Engineers. That report evaluates three non-breach alternatives and one breach alternative. Data corrections to the 2002 EIS identified by several recent economic reports developed by Earth Economics of Tacoma will also be shared. When these analyses are framed within the context of threatened and endangered salmon, steelhead and endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales, they become an extremely relevant motivator for dam breaching in the immediate future and present a win-win-win opportunity for Idahoans.
About the presenter:
Jim Waddell, retired civil engineer from the Army Corps of Engineers, was Deputy District Engineer for Programs at the Walla Walla District during the 2002 EIS study. His spontaneous statements made about the dams at a community meeting in 2011 are featured in the 2014 documentary movie DamNation. Since then he has been working to shine a light on data from the 2002 EIS, and to correct erroneous assumptions made then. He is in a unique position to know the details and the story behind that report and the folly that has followed.

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Yellowstone Meadows Report – June 2016

By Dave Sweet

I thought you all might be interested in a fishing report from Walt Gasson (Director, TU Endorsed Businesses) on a trip he recently made into the Thorofare to fish for native Yellowstone cutthroats with Dave Hettinger Outfitting. Please read his report at this link. Sounds like he not only had a great time, but also got to witness what can only be described as a remarkable number of cutthroats in the system. I know we sometimes get discouraged by the slow progress to recover this population of cutts in Yellowstone Lake; however, his report puts our work into context. Along with the sightings this spring of grizzlies again feeding on cutthroats, we now have further indications that our work is leading to success. And, it sounds like a significant number of other people made the same arduous trip to take advantage of the increasing spawning run. Not too many years ago, no one was going to the trouble of going into the Thorofare to fish! Walt is planning to write up his trip for an article submitted to Trout Unlimited’s magazine Trout. Hopefully, other publications will follow suit.

I would like to add my own observations from our angling days on Yellowstone Lake in June to catch lake trout for the telemetry study. Over 95 volunteers in 19 different boats were trying to catch lake trout in order to surgically implant the hydro-acoustic transmitters. We were targeting lake trout; fishing deep with big spoons. Yet, over the course of five days we repeatedly caught way more cutthroats than lake trout. In fact, the ratio was almost 3 to 1. This occurred over many different areas of the lake using what would normally not be thought of as cutthroat techniques. The results were quite surprising.

We should all feel a sense of pride that our efforts are paying off. Please share this report with anyone else you feel would like to read it.
Dave Sweet
Yellowstone Lake Special Project Manager, WY TU

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